The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were not supposed to be contenders, let alone win the NL East Division crown, let alone a National League pennant. At least not as far as experts, and anyone who knew anything at all about baseball was concerned as that season began.
Well, at least not as far as anyone except the team themselves, that is.
In my lifetime, I have followed the Phillies through 45 seasons now, since I was a 9-year old kid in 1971. I have enjoyed some great seasons. Ten NL East crowns. Five National League pennants. A pair of World Series championships.
Never in all of those 45 seasons did I follow a single season, from start to finish, that was more enjoyable, more downright fun, than that group of 1993 Phillies.
Perhaps it was because it was all so unexpected. In 1992, the Phils had finished in last place in the NL East with a 70-92 record. That 1992 cellar finish was their sixth straight losing campaign, and made it eight of nine seasons in which the club had not fashioned a winning record.
The Phillies swept the Houston Astros on the road in a three game series to open the season, on their way to winning eight of their first nine games. Their only loss in that stretch left them a half-game out in the NL East race. They would never trail again that season.
By the end of April, the Phillies were 17-5, and had built up a 4.5 game lead in the division. By the end of May, they were 34-15, and the lead was up to seven games. At the MLB All-Star break, their record still stood at 57-32, and they led by five games.
Four Phillies were named to the NL All-Star team, including catcher and team captain Darren Daulton and 1st baseman John Kruk, each voted by MLB fans as starters. Pitcher Terry Mulholland was selected and became the game’s starting pitcher. Also named to the squad was tough 3rd baseman Dave Hollins.
It was around the break that the team went through its one real rough patch. A win on June 25th had pushed them a season-high 30 games over the .500 mark. But from then through July 17th, the club went into a tailspin, losing 14 of 20 games to watch their lead shrink to just three games.
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Then, just when many thought the bubble had burst and the clock had struck midnight on their Cinderella first half, the Phillies simply refused to lose for the rest of the regular season. That is almost a literal statement. Just twice more would they lose as many as three in a row.
On Tuesday night, September 28th, the Phillies bats exploded for a 10-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, clinching the franchise’ first NL East crown in a decade, and completing their “worst-to-first” turnaround.
Skipper Jim Fregosi would be named the National League Manager of the Year for leading that amazing group that became known as “Macho Row”, as a nod to their tremendous offensive outputs and in a takeoff of the old “Murderer’s Row” of the New York Yankees.
That offensive lineup included All-Stars Daulton, Kruk, and Hollins. It also included outstanding righty-lefty platoons in both left field, with RH Pete Incaviglia and LH Milt Thompson, and in right field with RH Wes Chamberlain and LH Jim Eisenreich.
It also included an exciting center fielder nicknamed “The Dude” or “Nails”, Lenny Dykstra. While he wasn’t an All-Star, he would become the team’s offensive catalyst, and finished 2nd in the National League MVP voting to the great Barry Bonds that season. Others of note with the ’93 Phillies included reliever Larry Anderson, who had played with the ’83 Phillies, and closer Mitch ‘Wild Thing’ Williams.
The Phillies met the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS that season. This was in the years when Atlanta was still playing in the NL West, where they were assigned in the wake of the 1969 expansion and would remain until a 1994 realignment which followed another round of expansion in that 1993 season.
The Braves had won their 3rd straight division title that season in what would become a streak of 14 consecutive division crowns. They had won an MLB-high 104 games. They were led by a trio of starting pitchers who would all become Baseball Hall of Famers: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.
But that 1993 Phillies team was the worst possible opponent for those great Braves pitchers. The ‘Macho Row’ group feared no one, and they could work a pitcher like no other team in Phillies’ franchise history. They again shocked the baseball world by dispatching Atlanta in six games to win the NL pennant and advance into the World Series.
Waiting in the Fall Classic was yet another dynamic ball club, the defending world champion Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays were featured a trio of future Hall of Famers in Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, and Roberto Alomar. They also had one of the game’s best all-around hitters in John Olerud, and one of the game’s top sluggers in Joe Carter.
The Blue Jays broke open a tight Game One by scoring three times in the bottom of the 7th to win by an 8-5 score at SkyDome in Toronto, taking a lead of 1-0 in the series. All this sets us up for the next installment in our Phillies Fall Classics feature: Game Two of the 1993 World Series.
Fregosi would send the 30-year old unflappable lefty NL All-Star starter Mulholland to the mound for the big Game Two start. Opposing him for manager Cito Gaston‘s Blue Jays was 15-year, 36-year old veteran righty Stewart, who had signed with the world champs after seven strong seasons with the Oakland Athletics, including a 1989 AL Cy Young Award.
The man known as ‘Smoke’ had broken into the big leagues all the way back in 1978 with a Los Angeles Dodgers team that would beat the Phillies in that year’s NLCS. Stewart had also briefly pitched in a dozen games for the Phillies during the 1985 and 1986 seasons.
But one thing that played into the Phillies hands with a pitcher like Stewart was that he was right handed. The Phillies lefty-heavy lineup could feast on righty fastballers, and Stewart fit the mold perfectly.
In the top of the 3rd inning with the game still scoreless, Stewart walked both Dykstra and 2nd baseman Mariano Duncan to start things off. It would prove a bad portent of things to come. Kruk singled to score Dykstra, and then Hollins singled to score Duncan, and the Phillies were up 2-0.
One batter later, another lefty would land an even bigger blow. Eisenreich, who famously battled the condition known as Tourette’s syndrome, was a tremendous contact hitter, and not known as a slugger. But on an 0-2 pitch, Eisenreich blasted a 3-run homer deep into the stands in right center.
Mulholland would hold on to that 5-0 lead for just one inning. In a foreshadowing of things to come at the series’ end, Carter ripped a line drive 2-run homer down the left field line to put the Jays on the scoreboard.
In the bottom of the 6th, Mulholland retired the first two batters. But then Alomar singled and came all the way around on a Tony Fernandez double, cutting the Phillies lead to 5-3 and finally knocking the Phils’ starter out of the game.
With two of the Phillies first three hitters due up in the top of the 7th as left-handed hitters, Gaston went to his bullpen and brought in 30-year old veteran lefty Tony Castillo. Dykstra made sure that move backfired, blasting a leadoff home run to deep right, making it a 6-3 Phillies lead.
Fregosi had turned to righty reliever Roger Mason to get out of the 6th inning jam, and Mason continued strong by setting the Jays down in order in the 7th. In the bottom of the 8th, Molitor led off with a double, and then Mason froze Carter on a 2-2 pitch for a huge out. Fregosi then decided it was time to bring in his closer, Mitch Williams.
Molitor immediately took advantage of the ‘Wild Thing’, swiping third base. He then scored when Olerud lofted a sacrifice fly to right, making it a 6-4 game. Now with two outs, Williams lived down to his nickname, walking Alomar, who then promptly stole 2nd base. But then with Tony Fernandez up as the tying run, the Jays pushed the thievery too far. Alomar took off for 3rd, but was picked off by Williams for the inning’s final out.
Still holding that same 6-4 lead into the bottom of the 9th, Williams walked Fernandez as the leadoff man. He was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder by Ed Sprague. But the Jays still were bringing them tying run to the plate, this time in the form of catcher Pat Borders.
With the always dangerous Henderson on-deck, Williams induced Borders to roll a 1-1 pitch on the ground to Phils’ rookie shortstop Kevin Stocker. Stocker flipped to Duncan, who turned and fired to Kruk, completing the game-ending doubleplay.
With that 6-4 victory, the Phillies had accomplished their goal of winning a game in Toronto. They would now return to Veteran’s Stadium where they would host the next three games. For now, the magic of this season was continuing. But it would take until Game Five before we would reach what will be the next in this featured series, our Phillies Fall Classic VIII.